Op/Ed

Editorial: Graduation’s life lessons

ANGELO LYNN

Inherent in most all graduation speeches is the send-off of a new generation of students into a world offering promise and hoped for success, but also certain obstacles and failure, grief and setbacks. The challenge in the journey is to persevere with grace, humility and goodwill toward others.

Those words of encouragement are said each spring to millions of graduates in thousands of ways, this year with two particular bookends — the beginning of the pandemic when today’s graduates in high school and college were entering their freshmen year that culminated with a full lunar eclipse four years later. 

The eclipse proved an apt metaphor for today’s graduates in as much as 2024 graduates emerged from a temporary period of darkness to the wondrous opportunities seen in new light.

“Your path ahead will not always be clear, and you will surely face more eclipses along the way,” Mount Abe Principal Shannon Warden told the 89 members of Mount Abe’s graduating class. “Those moments are just that — moments — and just a part of what will be a totality of a lifetime. Embrace these challenges; take pause to problem-solve, communicate, reflect and realign. These are opportunities for you to learn.”

At MUHS, senior Maura Connelly singled out kindness as a key lesson to remember. “We all have memories of someone’s kind words or actions, times when we felt respected and important,” she said, adding that the opposite was also true. “We know what kindness is and we know what kindness is not. We understand its value, because we know how it feels when we aren’t treated with it.”

She encouraged her classmates to hold that lesson dear in the years ahead. “As you enter new communities and make new memories, how will you be the person that someone else tells a story about,” she asked. “Be inclusive and not exclusive. Fight for equity and against discrimination. Be a good person. Be kind because those are the things that really matter.”

At each of Addison County’s high schools another theme was prominent: the community that binds them. With students sharing various stories of growing up together in small schools from kindergarten through high school, that sense of closeness and cohesion was universal.

“We have the unique experience of graduating from small elementary schools with 20-odd peers, whom we had known all of our lives,” recalled MAUHS senior class president Abel Atocha. “… It took a little while, but quickly new friendships formed. We weren’t Bristol kids or Starksboro kids anymore, we were Mount Abe kids.”

Those kids would soon become graduates.

“Now we are about to leave these familiar halls (of high school) and move into a different part of our lives,” said VUHS Class President Benedict Diehl-Noble, “but we will always be connected by the shared start we had here. Whether our next steps are close to home, across the country or even across the world, we know that this school and this small city will connect us forever.”

Advice is often offered matter-of-factly, as if it’s the tonic to take from commencement ceremonies. After a thoughtful prologue that questioned the old saying that we’re not condemned to repeat what we don’t remember, noted historian Ben Burns addressed graduates at Brandeis University:

“Okay, let me speak directly to the graduating class. Watch out, here comes the advice. 

“Listen. Be curious, not cool. Insecurity makes liars of us all. Remember, none of us get out of here alive. The inevitable vicissitudes of life, no matter how well gated our communities, will visit us all. Grief is a part of life, and if you explore its painful precincts, it will make you stronger. 

“Do good things, help others. Leadership is humility and generosity squared. Remember the opposite of faith is not doubt. Doubt is central to faith. The opposite of faith is certainty. The kinship of the soul begins with your own at times withering self-examination…. ‘Nothing so needs reforming,’ Mark Twain once chided us, ‘as other people’s habits.’

“Don’t confuse success with excellence. Do not descend too deeply into specialism. Educate all of your parts, you will be healthier. Do not get stuck in one place. ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice,’ Twain also said. 

“Be in nature, which is always perfect and where nothing is binary. Its sheer majesty may remind you of your own atomic insignificance, as one observer put it, but in the inscrutable and paradoxical ways of wild places, you will feel larger, inspirited, just as the egotist in our midst is diminished by his or her self-regard.

“At some point, make babies, one of the greatest things that will happen to you, I mean it, one of the greatest things that will happen to you is that you will have to worry, I mean really worry, about someone other than yourself. It is liberating and exhilarating, I promise. Ask your parents.

“Choose honor over hypocrisy, virtue over vulgarity, discipline over dissipation, character over cleverness, sacrifice over self-indulgence. Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology the word enthusiasm means simply, ‘god in us.’ Serve your country. Insist that we fight the right wars. Denounce oppression everywhere.

“Convince your government, as Lincoln understood that the real threat always and still comes from within this favored land. Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts.

“They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country; they just make our country worth defending.

“Remember what Louis Brandeis said, ‘The most important political office is that of the private citizen.’ Please vote…. You indelibly underscore your citizenship, and most important, our kinship with each other when you do. 

“Good luck and godspeed.”

And from Mount Abe’s ceremony, social studies educator Scott Beckwith adds two other thoughts: 

• “Listen for the silence. Show others they matter by listening.

• “Break bread with as many people as you can. Share a meal. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but taking time to sit and talk with others while enjoying food simply feeds your soul.”

Such are life lessons for us all. 

Angelo Lynn

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